Lessons from the disaster in Japan

On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded. The magnitude 9.0 quake created a deadly tsunami that slammed into the small island nation, leaving a huge path of wreckage in its wake. Over 10,000 people are feared dead and many more are still missing or injured, and almost half a million people are homeless. In addition, the country is facing a nuclear crisis that is gripping the nation and the rest of the world with fear.

The intensity of the earthquake in Japan generated a tsunami warning for the entire Pacific Coast, prompting local closures including the Great Highway, San Francisco beaches, and Crissy Field. Although the threat did not materialize for San Francisco, we saw what happened in Santa Cruz where the tsunami waves sank 18 boats and caused $17 million worth of infrastructure damage.

Although Japan has long been a leader among nations in disaster planning and preparedness, the magnitude of the disaster demonstrates how a complex disaster can overwhelm even the best of planning. Knowing our history in the Marina with the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, we need to be as vigilant as ever in the event of the next big earthquake. Because disaster preparedness is so important to District 2, I recently met with Anne Kronenberg, the new director of the Department of Emergency Management – San Francisco’s city agency tasked with running the operations of any local disaster relief effort in San Francisco.

We are working on new ideas to strengthen our disaster preparedness throughout San Francisco and District 2 in particular, but I want everyone to be aware of a few key resources currently available:

NERT: Back in 1989, as buildings burned in the Marina and homes were rocked off their foundations, countless volunteers lined up to help SFFD firefighters and the grassroots beginning of the Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) took shape. NERT continues to take an active role in disaster preparedness in San Francisco and is a community-based training program run through the San Francisco Fire Department. As it has evolved over the years, NERT has become a free training program for individuals, neighborhood groups and community-based organizations in San Francisco. Through this program, individuals learn the basics of personal preparedness and prevention.

The training also includes hands-on disaster skills that help individuals respond to a personal emergency as well as act as members of a neighborhood response team. Since 1990, the NERT program has trained more than 21,000 San Francisco residents to be self reliant in the event of a large-scale disaster. I encourage everyone to learn more about NERT and consider forming a neighborhood response team to build community and gain the skills and resources to protect yourself, your family and home, and your neighborhood. For more information, please visit is a website where you can learn how to prepare yourself and your family for an emergency. It provides information on how to make a plan, build a kit, and get involved. The idea behind is that in the first 72 hours of a disaster, services and assistance might not be available so you need to have food, water, medical supplies, etc. to take care of you and your family before outside help is available. Building a kit can be a great family project and a teachable opportunity for your children. Visit


Alert SF:
Finally, San Francisco has a new service called Alert SF. Alert SF is a free system that allows users to sign up to receive text and e-mail alerts from the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) during an emergency. Topics include major traffic disruptions, watches and warnings for tsunamis and flooding, post-disaster information, and other alerts. DEM used this system as one tool to disseminate information during the tsunami alert we received after the earthquake in Japan. To sign up, go to


Beginning this month, I will be serving on the Disaster Council, which is chaired by the mayor and composed of key department heads and City officials, three members of the Board of Supervisors, and representatives of private organizations appointed by the mayor. The council meets quarterly to share information and ensure full participation by member agencies in the emergency planning activities of the City. I will be sure to keep you informed through my newsletter about any relevant discussions at the Disaster Council.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Japan and all those affected by the devastation. As Japan struggles in the aftermath of the disaster, there are ways you can offer support to the earthquake and tsunami relief effort. Similar to its efforts in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, the Red Cross is accepting donations online or via text message. You can text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 from your phone or visit

If you would like to be periodically updated on District 2 issues and community events, as well as my legislative and policy ideas, please sign up for our quarterly newsletter – the first one was released on March 31. You can sign up by going to the Board of Supervisors website at and by clicking on Supervisor Mark E. Farrell. Follow the newsletter link and input your e-mail address. You can also send an e-mail to one of the addresses below. For instant updates, you can follow me on Facebook.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, you can always reach me by calling the office at 415-554-7752 or by e-mailing me at . My legislative aides, Margaux Kelly and Catherine Stefani, are also available to help with any of your concerns. They can be reached at the same number or at and .